Sunday, April 03, 2005

Eat shoots and leaves

After dealing with waves of exotic foreigners who don’t eat non-veg food - and for some strange reason refuse to consume even fish - the attendants at the media centre pantry at BaselWorld are always pleased to see me. The first time I went there seeking food there was much confusion, because when I asked what dishes had the most portions of meat in them, they assumed I wanted to avoid those. “That has ham!” screeched one lady as I piled a jumbo sandwich onto my plate. Yes, isn’t that great, I replied, salivating like Pavlov’s dog. “That’s MEAT. Oh, you have?” the lady said, her face lighting up like a hundred suns. It was a special moment.

I have of course read and heard much about how tough Indian vegetarians have it abroad, but experiencing it firsthand is quite another matter. My marketing colleague/roommate is a “pure” veg, doesn’t even eat egg, and carries with him for days at a stretch home-cooked paranthas and achar that stink up the hotel room. He hordes chocolates to munch on when we travel and gazes wistfully at cakes that look delicious but probably have egg in them. I feel for him as I’ve rarely felt before for vegetarians.

On the train from Basel to Zurich yesterday we met a sad-faced man, a Mumbai-based watch retailer. He was carrying a bag full of apple cores and banana skins. “So tough for us folks,” he complained to my colleague, while giving me resentful sideway glances, “it’s like we’re being punished for respecting the sanctity of life.”

It’s tough enough for me to go several days without any wet food, so I can imagine how bad it must be for these people. And my mind boggles when I see Indians who can’t even speak English living in these places for months/years at a stretch. It’s painful to watch these people trying to communicate their food restrictions to uncomprehending staff at supermarkets.

P.S. for Amrita: Been in Switzerland 4 days and haven’t seen a SINGLE cow yet (though I had a superb beef burger last night).

P.P.S. Just so I’m not the only one to be crucified by any vegetarian who reads this, here is a passionate piece on meat-eating by the famous television journalist and non-vegetarian, Shamya Dasgupta.


  1. I completely sympathise with the "sad-faced" man. I was travelling abroad when I was fasting, and had a tough time. And some McDonalds abroad don't even serve veg burgers! Strange, considering the wave of veganism hitting the US and other countries recently.

  2. I can understand the veggie's plight - I am one too. When we travel out here in Western Europe, we book an apartment, carry our rations (rice, dal, sabjis...) and cook our own South-Indian khana.

    Nice to hear that you're enjoying yourself. The weather has been very kind too, since a couple of weeks - lucky for you!

  3. The title reminded me of 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves' by Lynne Truss. And Pandas, heh.

    Some vegetarians can be rather aggressive with their views on this subject. Particularly women (sexist comment alert!)

    The only vegetarian in my group of friends in the hostel tended to keep his views on this subject to himself. O-)

  4. Jai,

    that whole "no fish" thing might have something to do with Switzerland's coastal geography! If I were served fish in a landlocked country, I would politely decline!

    In any case, nice to hear you're having a nice time in Cloud-Cuckoo Land.

    Abdul-Walid of Acerbia

  5. My sympathies with the veggies--it can get tough even in India. Remember a luncheon where my dish was ordered after all the courses had been presented-bcos it was assumed that all were NV.
    The other aspect is the scorn and the contempt which some veggied may harbour for NV's which the latter quickly reverse and counteract.

  6. Ah, the pleasures of making your own (desi/not) khana.
    Recently lived for 5weeks surrounded by pork, beef, chicken, fish and varied seafood.
    Also surrounded by confused expressions not quite comprehending what I meant by "vegetables only".
    The ezquiaite pleasure I felt at moving in to my own place and cooking food was...well, exquisite.

  7. There are so many vegetarians reading this blog??? I should be more sensitive.

  8. Instead of being sensitive about vegetarians, do a robust little item on picking the choicest cuts at the butchers from a kid (ie baby goat) that has been so recently slaughtered that it's still quivering as it hangs up there, bloody on the hook.

    AHH! the pleasure!

    I once spent several weeks working for Jain principals and staying in Jain guesthouses all over Gujarat. And jains are not just vegetarian, they are aggressively macho about the number of fasts they keep and the fact that they don't eat a vast range of veggies or eat at all after sundown, etc.

    Believe me, it is much worse being a non-vegetarian in Jainistan especially who likes his potato chips and a nice snack after sundown as it is being a vegetarian in the wider world. By the end of the thingy I was prepared to blow my entire compensation at karims.

    Have fun in clock-land and try and indulge in something kinky and ethnic like a fur fetish. I know an Indian exec of Indian origin who discovered to his joy that he had one such when he was posted to "HQ".


  9. I meant a Nestle exec of Indian origin who discovered while posted at HQ that he had this unsuspected fur fetsh.

  10. think one of us has got it wrong, it's tough finding veg fare, not the other way, around out here, as for why the staff were perplexed may have to do with the stereotype of Indians insisting on veg, so much so that i've had ppl making fun of me each time they see me eating veg